You're soaked. Good thing I was here to lend you my jacket. Now let's go somewhere and get you out of those wet clothes.
Bad luck. It's laid many a pulp protagonist low. In the 1938 thriller You Play the Black and Red Comes Up, written by Richard Hallas, aka Eric Knight, luck never seems to run the way the main character wants. The cover art on this 1951 Dell edition is by Victor Kalin, and depicts a scene in which the narrator Dick Dempsey gives his coat to a woman who has emerged naked from the sea. The fact that Dempsey is on the dock at that moment seems like the best possible luck, but luck can start good then turn bad, start bad then turn worse, and in all cases end up mockingly ironic. At one point Dempsey is trying his best to lose at roulette and the wheel hits black eleven times in a row, as he disbelievingly keeps letting his pile of cash ride. Then when he finally shifts it to red he's stunned when the wheel hits that color too.
The money that's causing Dempsey trouble isn't the fortune he won gambling—it's the fortune he stole during a robbery. In classic Damoclean style this loot hangs over him the entire book. He can't give it back, can't confess, and can't leave it behind. He just knows, like in roulette, whatever he does will turn out to be the wrong bet. You Play the Black and Red Comes Up is one of those books that was out of print for a while, but we can see why it was revived. Besides having the best title of possibly any crime novel ever written, its late-Depression, southern California setting makes a nice backdrop for weird events, bizarre characters, and outlandish existential musings. Critics of the day were divided on it. Was it homage to hard-boiled fiction, or a parody of it? To us it seems clearly the former. In either case, Hallas's tale has its flaws, but it's tough, spare, and very noir, all good qualities in vintage crime fiction.
You never forget the first time.
We recently saw the latest reboot of the classic blaxploitation film Shaft with Samuel L. Jackson, Jesse Usher, et al, and while the parties involved in that effort have their unique charms, this photo pretty much covers what made Richard Roundtree the best. He was, and remains, a bad mother— Shut your mouth! He was born today in 1942, and this photo dates from 1971.
Blacula hopes to get a hard restart.
Every blockbuster deserves—or at least spawns—a sequel, and so it was with 1972's blaxploitation hit Blacula, which American International Pictures followed up with Scream, Blacula, Scream. All it really needed was star William Marshall, who in the first movie showed true professionalism by playing his role of Mamuwalde the cursed vampire to the hilt. He does the same here, and with the addition of Pam Grier the filmmakers had their bases covered. Grier plays a Mamaloa priestess who Mamuwalde asks to use her voodoo judo to turn him into a man again. Presumably at that point he'll start his new life with a romp in bed with Grier. We would.
Grier tries to figure out how to transform Mamuwalde, but in the interim he still occasionally gets hungry, which presents the cops with a series of bizarre murders. You know the drill. Bodies are punctured about the neck and drained of blood, but everyone is skeptical about the vampire thing. In short order they change their minds, generally right before departing for the sweet hereafter. At least part of the fun for audiences would have been seeing cops beaten and maimed, and the climax surely offers plenty of that. Does Mamuwalde's scheme to rejoin humanity work? We'll give you a hint: When the man is on your trail bite more, talk less.
We have some nice promo images below. The two of Grier in a red crop top are usually considered to be from Foxy Brown, but she actually wears the outfit in this film. Maybe she wears it in Foxy Brown too. And why not—it's hot. You can read about Blacula at this link, and see plenty more of Miss Grier by clicking her keywords below. Scream, Blacula, Scream premiered in the U.S. today in 1973.
You think you're the first spurned woman to try to shoot me? Baby, that's how my ex-girlfriends all say hello.
Above is the Fawcett Publications 1967 edition of Richard Stark's, aka Donald E. Westlake's landmark crime thriller Point Blank, which was originally published in 1962 as The Hunter and was first in the long-running Parker series. Parker was one of the cruelest and most sociopathic anti-heroes in mid-century literature. The Robert McGinnis cover makes him look like some kind of sophisticated rogue, but don't let the art fool you—Point Blank is rough stuff. You like Jack Reacher? Reacher has the personality of a yoga instructor in comparison. This was our first Parker, but we've read another since and it looks like we're going to have a long, entertaining relationship with this character.
Desert town suffers invasion of body snatchers.
There's something about cheeseball ’50s sci-fi. The earnestness and analog efx are fun, but it's their speculative nature that makes them don't-miss cinema. How will we travel in the future? What would a trip to Mars be like? How will society have changed by the year 2000? What if aliens visited Earth? It Came from Outer Space falls into the latter category, and here's why aliens visit—by accident. The entire script can be summed up with: space ship crashes, space ship broken, space ship needs repair, aliens take over human bodies to do it. Talk about invading your personal space. Pretty soon two local menials are wandering around like zombies seeking spare parts to fix the grounded ship, while studly Richard Carlson tries to figure out what crashed in the desert.
It sounds silly, but this is a high budget flick, as such efforts go, with good direction, more than adequate acting, and lots of alien-cam shots. It's funny too, though unintentionally, for example when Kathleen Hughes, for reasons that are never clear, plays her bit part like a mink in heat, even though she's supposed to be worried to death about her kidnapped boyfriend. That boyfriend is Russell Johnson, the professor from Gilligan's Island. Can you believe this guy? First Hughes, then he's shipwrecked with Ginger and Mary Ann. Some guys have all the luck. But we're lucky too—we found numerous excellent promo images and uploaded them below. The movie's iconic poster was painted by Joseph Smith. It Came from Outer Space premiered in the U.S today in 1953.
Males top the endangered species list in 1967 spy thriller.
We've shared a lot of art, including a previous Japanese poster, from the James Bond knockoff Deadlier than the Male without ever actually talking about the movie. Today seems like an opportune time, since we're already on the subject of Bond clones. The film, which premiered in Japan today in 1967 after opening in the the UK earlier in the year, starred Richard Johnson, who actually came close to landing the role of Bond thanks to the interest of Dr. No director Terence Young. It didn't happen, though, and Connery as Bond makes more sense when you see Johnson, who's older, skinnier, shorter, and in less pristine shape. But he has panache, and that may be why Young wanted him. Instead he got Connery, and Johnson got the consolation prize of playing Hugh Drummond, a character that originates in H. C. McNeile novels from the 1920s, but who's updated to the ’60s in order to deal with a Cold War plot to steal rockets and divert them for nefarious means.
Like the Bond films, Deadlier than the Male offers a winning combination of action, quips, exotic scenery, and lightweight sexiness, but the film never quite rises to the upper echelons. Without the Bond budget it's hard to bring a truly thrilling vision to life. At least the filmmakers were smart enough to frontload their assets by opening the proceedings with Elke Sommer, who's second billed, but probably more important than Johnson in terms of increasing the film's watchability. She has a physicality that makes her a nice fit playing an assassin in the employ of the film's ultimate villain. Sylva Koscina co-stars as Sommer's klepto sidekick, which doesn't hurt. The pair's nefarious deeds eventually draw Johnson to their mountaintop stronghold, and there viewers are treated to a final throwdown with the evil mastermind involving a mechanized, life-sized chessboard. While Deadlier than the Male doesn't manage to out-Bond Bond, watch it with friends and beers and you'll maximize its potential.
Need to spice up your book cover? Try a splash of color.
Over haar lijk was published in 1960 by Rotterdam based Uitgeversmij, and it's a Dutch edition of Richard S. Prather's 1959 thriller Over Her Dead Body. This caught our eye because the cover has the same art that was used on Steve Brackeen's Baby Moll, except with the background changed to an eye-catching blood red. Uitgeversmij often took U.S. covers and colored them. It sometimes led to cheap looking results, but occasionally, such as here and with Henry Kane's Snatch an Eye (which we showed you a while back), they lucked into beautiful results. We've seen this cover around, but we suspect it came from Flickr, so thanks to original uploader on this.
They always get the best seat in the house.
Below, a collection of film stars, in Hollywood and other places, looking large and in charge while seated in director's chairs. In panel three the actress in the “Bonanza's guest” chair is Karen Sharpe. We don't expect you'll need help with the others, but if so our keywords list them in order.
Player, hustler, dealer, pimp.
Here's a little something for the blaxploitation bin, an Italian locandina, or playbill, for the 1973 gangster classic The Mack, starring Max Julien, Richard Pryor, and Carol Speed. In Italy it was called Mack - Il marciapiede della violenza, aka, “Mack – sidewalk of violence,” and if anyone saw it based on this poster they must have been surprised by the African American cast. We don't have an Italian release date for the movie, but it opened in the U.S. today in 1973. From our non-professional perspective it's a pretty important flick. You can see what we wrote about it here.
Hmph. She didn't crumble to dust. Guess you weren't a vampire after all. Sorry, honey.
You may remember we started on a set of Richard Matheson books several months ago, long before we were thinking about COVID-19, and I Am Legend was always third on the list. There are so many books and stories about humanity being wiped out by flus and viruses. We thought this was one of them. We don't know why, but that was our assumption. The book, though, is actually about vampires. The novel first appeared in 1954, and the Corgi Books edition you see here was published in 1960. The story follows the day-to-day—and night-to-night—existence of man named Robert Neville who lives in a Los Angeles house, from which he kills vampires and forages for food by sunlight, but to which he must retreat every sunset lest he be consumed by rampaging bloodsuckers. He might be the last man on Earth, but how can he know? He's basically tethered to his house as far as a tank of gas can carry him—half to go someplace, half to get back. In that radius he's seen nothing but desolation and vampires.
Most of the narrative deals with him trying to decipher vampire biology as a way to cure or kill them. Everything is covered, from why they hate crosses to why wooden stakes kill them, and the idea of a virus is actually touched upon as a cause of their condition, which is perhaps where we got our mistaken ideas about the book. The science is interesting, but the point is terror and isolation, as the main character's survival is complicated by his occasional bouts of carelessness and despair. Setting aside the usual 1950s social attitudes that don't strike harmonious chords today, the book is effective, and, in parts, legitimately scary. The concept resulted in four film adaptations—1964's The Last Man on Earth, 1971's The Omega Man, and 2007's I Am Legend and I Am Omega. When a book is that kind of cinematic gold mine, you expect it to be good, and it is. We'd even call it a horror monument.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1971—Corona Sent to Prison
Mexican-born serial killer Juan Vallejo Corona is convicted of the murders of 25 itinerant laborers. He had stabbed each of them, chopped a cross in the backs of their heads with a machete, and buried them in shallow graves in fruit orchards in Sutter County, California. At the time the crimes were the worst mass murders in U.S. history.
1960—To Kill a Mockingbird Appears
Harper Lee's racially charged novel To Kill a Mockingbird
is published by J.B. Lippincott & Co. The book is hailed as a classic, becomes an international
bestseller, and spawns a movie starring Gregory Peck, but is the only novel Lee would ever publish.
1962—Nuke Test on Xmas Island
As part of the nuclear tests codenamed Operation Dominic, the United States detonates a one megaton bomb on Australian controlled Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean. The island was a location for a series of American and British nuclear tests, and years later lawsuits claiming radiation damage to military personnel were filed, but none were settled in favor in the soldiers.
1940—The Battle of Britain Begins
The German Air Force, aka the Luftwaffe, attacks shipping convoys off the coast of England, touching off what Prime Minister Winston Churchill describes as The Battle of Britain.
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